March 24, 2012

My hands are in a fist and I punch the wooden door like a battered boxer, forced into the corner of the ring.  Swinging wildly, I drop hooks and uppercuts, across the top, across the belt of the door. The door that prevents me from witnessing my daughter's birth, from holding my partner's hand, from being at the epicenter of the most life altering moment of our young existence.


It sounds like flesh on wood and it is all I have going. Make a raucous. Throw a fit. Beat the door senseless until they are forced to inform me. 


I pace like a mad man, back and forth across the carpeted hallway, under the florescent lights, from one wall to the other. A woman labors vigorously in an adjacent room, panting and grunting, determined and focused.


It was the 24th of March, 2011, when the accident happened.  It was going on 5pm in the evening. The kids were outside playing together. I had just gotten Stella up from her nap and Kari was just coming home from running a work errand. 

She held Stella for a moment to say hello. And then she tripped on the sidewalk, a few steps from our front door.

Her belly landed first.

Ten minutes later she's lying on a bed in labor and delivery.

A nurse frantically placed the fetal monitor on her belly, on this side of her belly, on that side, up and down and everywhere in between. Nothing.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, we trembled on repeat, almost under our breath, as if the fear was acting like a silencer to the scream inside.

Our Doctor rushed in. He wanted to see our baby, to see if there was a heartbeat. An ultrasound machine suddenly appeared, within the blur, within seconds.

And I thought I saw it too. A flutter on the screen. A movement. Hope.

I see something. Let's take her now, he said in a hurry. He was halfway out the door before he finished his thought. 


There is a small window in the wooden door that I pound. From the window, I can see a room drenched in white, a surgical preparation room, with instruments and tables and machines. In the corner of the room, I can see the door that leads to where Kari is. Nurses and doctors come and go frantically from her room, two of them at a time, three at a time, coming and going, masks on their faces, blood on their plastic gloves.


A few more nurses come racing down the hallway, slipping gloves on their hands as they approach.

I think I hear crying! one of them says to me excitedly, as she opens the door and brushes past me.

Minutes go by without a word. I peer through the window in vain, trying to lock eyes with anyone who will look my way. I can feel the pressure building as the minutes pass by without news.

I call my parents. Something happened, I tell them.


Suddenly an older nurse cracks the door open.

Did she make it? Is she alive? The words spill out of me.

We are doing the best we can, she says. We are doing the best we can.


There were four rooms and a hallway that I can remember. There was the room where Margot was born. There was the room where I first held her. There was the room where we waited for the blood to save Kari. There was the room in ICU where her blood started to clot. And there was that hallway, where I punched and waited and yelled.

Four rooms and a hallway. They are branded on my brain like it was yesterday, seared at the surface, hovering emphatically over the totality of my memories. They tease the innocence of my childhood, scoff at the freedom of my youth, stare down the adventures of my twenties. Driving a rusted motorcycle up a mountain in Nepal, with Kari's arms around my waist, racing the setting sun, suddenly doesn't count for as much.


From the window through which I stare, I can see the frantic pace of the nurses slow down. Everyone seems to be moving in slow motion. One nurse throws her plastic gloves into a container. Another nurse sobs uncontrollably as she exits the room Kari is in.


My punches become weak, faint even, as I feel the impending doom coming over me like a fog. My mind collapses into my heart, and together they crumble into a heap. I fall to the hallway floor.

An older NICU nurse opens the door and appears solemnly before me.

I'm so sorry, she says, but your daughter didn't make it.


Two nurses led my second daughter and I into a dark, empty room and shut the door behind us. We were in there alone, her and I, father and daughter, bonding over our broken hearts, sharing moments too holy for words.


And then they said that Kari was struggling, that she couldn't stop bleeding, that they were doing an X-ray to make sure a sharp instrument wasn't stitched up inside of her.

And then they came in twenty minutes later and said they were still working on her and I could tell by their shaken voices that something wasn't right.

Are we talking about life and death here, I asked in a dumbfounded huff, between the sobs, while holding my little one against my chest.

We are doing the best we can, she said. We are doing the best we can.


One year later, and these seven words hang in my heart like an anchor.

We are doing the best we can.

March 16, 2012

I'm writing over at Glow In the Woods today, talking about planet earth and Margot. Please feel free to stop by Glow and read my post, Pale Blue Dot, and join the discussion.

March 14, 2012

Eleven months in, going on a year, and my grief feels so civilized. Balanced. Healthy. Evolved. Appropriate.

Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst. 

I curb my anger by doing the dishes. I tone down my writing so that it's more widely acceptable, with less cursing and zero polarizing references to religion. I put on a happy face for the world even when my heart feels so broken. I keep my mouth shut every time someone tells me that my daughter died for a reason. I bite my lip when someone talks about this subsequent pregnancy casually, as if being pregnant for two years straight is no big deal, as if carrying one baby while grieving for another is an easy task, as if this new baby is guaranteed to live. I keep Margot's things in a tidy little corner, her ashes covered, her candle unlit in the presence of company. I engage with friends, making small talk, largely ignoring what actually consumes my thoughts every single day. I choose, with all of my strength, the hard road of hope and acceptance. I try to pull gifts from the gutter of this tragedy, to grow and learn and become a better version of myself.

This part of my grief feels like this pretty little package with a bow on top, one that can be easily accessed and casually touched. It doesn't offend, or shout or make people feel uncomfortable. It has manners, says please and thank-you and whispers calmly in the night. The ring leader is my mind, with it's persuasive logic and comforting presence, forcing down the two fists that my heart has raised up defiantly.

Truth is, it's only half the truth.

I really feel like taking what's left of her ashes and smearing them all over my face, rubbing them into my pores, breathing them into my lungs. I feel like spreading them around the house, kamikaze style, so that the air we breath is her, the cloud of ash a symbol for the missing that rages within.

I feel like throwing my fists into a tree, like breaking glass, like screaming at the top of lungs: MARGOT, MARGOT, MARGOT, WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?

I want to rage against those who tell me that my daughter died for a reason, or that judge the perceived longevity of our sorrow or that act as if it never happened.

I want to undress and crawl on all fours and pierce my body and cover myself in mud and grieve like they do in the developing world, where sorrow and ritual are commonplace.

I'd like to send a fuck you letter to several people for the insensitive things they have said or the ways they have ignored me, and another one to my own mind and heart, for suddenly caring so much about what people have done or not done.

I want to stab and pluck out the loneliness that is felt because of the inability for anyone to understand who hasn't faced the death of one their children.

I'm not always proud of the rage and angst when it comes to relationships. I want to trade grace for grace, understanding for understanding. But the raw truth is, eleven months in, my grief is complex and twisted, a vast labyrinth of civility, strength, grace, heartache, rage and brokenness, all parts equal in importance, whether the piercings get done or the letters get sent.

March 8, 2012

This photo was taken around the exact moment she officially turned three.

I have never seen this face before. It's brand new, a symbol of three. Gone are the awkward smiles, the exaggerated cheese! smiles and the cutesy shy smiles.

Can I get a picture of you guys on your birthday? I asked as casually as possible, knowing my Stella will only pose under her conditions.

I look through the lens and can't believe what I see unfolding before me. My little baby is confidently wrapping her arm around her closest friend, leaning into her like they are teenagers and shooting off the most grown up smile I have seen her wear.

There is so much love in these eyes, so much security, so much comfort.

You are breathtaking, my dear.